Omicron alarm, in the Netherlands 13 passengers positive for the variant. Israel also closes its borders: the moves of governments after the first cases

The Omicron variant is increasingly scary. Of the 61 passengers who arrived in Amsterdam yesterday from South Africa and tested positive at Covid, 13 were identified with the mutation. “The analysis is not finished yet,” they say from the Dutch National Institute of Health. “The new variant could be found in more samples.” The positive passengers were quarantined at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. After the announcement of the 13 cases of Omicron, the Dutch Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge he asked people returning from South Africa to undergo the swab “as soon as possible”. “It is not unthinkable that there are other cases in the Netherlands,” he said.

The situation in the UK

The United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7, has convened an emergency meeting of the health ministers of the seven countries for tomorrow, Monday 29 November, to address the issue. London, to the Omicron variant, has responded by imposing the obligation of a mask in shops and buses, has reintroduced the obligation of a molecular test and quarantine until the result for anyone entering the British territory (in short, the borders have been armored). Premier Boris Johnson, who so far had opted for one more line soft, seems to have changed strategy. There is fear of reliving the nightmare of the past year. It also stretched the red list of trips, adding another four African countries, which have now become a total of ten. In the meantime, Switzerland has canceled, as a precaution, the ministerial conference of the WTO (World Trade Organization), scheduled for next week.

Israel, the Czech Republic and Australia

A suspected case was reported in the Czech Republic, two in Australia involving passengers from South Africa. Meanwhile, Israel has completely closed its borders to prevent the arrival of passengers infected with the Omicron variant. According to the head of Israeli public health, Sharon Alroy-Preis, the transmission potential of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 is “very high, but at the same time – he highlighted – in cases of vaccinated people the disease is very light”. There are currently two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Israel. This was announced by the director general of the ministry of health Nachman Ash. According to media reports, one of the two cases relates to a woman who has recently returned from South Africa: her condition does not cause concern, however, because she is vaccinated. The other case was instead found yesterday in a person, also vaccinated, who returned from Malawi. The problem is that there are other suspected cases in the country, yet to be confirmed. For now, starting from midnight, the new rules decided by the government take effect: for 15 days the borders remain closed to all foreigners

What the EU is doing

Meanwhile, the EU could think of a shared strategy in the next few hours to avoid the spread of the new variant of Covid; meanwhile, individual governments are running for cover (Italy, for example, has blocked flights from some African countries). A fear that has affected the whole world, even if at the moment it is not known how much and if the Omicron variant already arrived in Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany and Italy is really dangerous (the first Italian patient is an employee of Eni of Caserta who works in Mozambique and has already infected his entire family). In Brussels, the European Commission activated the emergency brake, which led to the blocking of flights from southern Africa, and decided to accelerate with third doses of vaccines but also with tests and tracking of those coming from the regions more at risk, President Ursula von der Leyen said.

In short, there is no more time to waste and in the next few hours we will work to “deepen the sequencing of the variant”. Finally, South Africa protests for the blocking of flights, accusing Western governments of having “punished” the country rather than applauding it for having found the new mutation of the virus. And the EU-Africa vaccination rates are merciless: in the EU and in the USA the 60 percent of the population appears to be immunized by Covid against the 7 percent dell’Africa.

Cover image: EPA / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN

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